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By the time Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy, now the only permanent members of The Cult came to release 1991's album ceremony, they had travelled a long and evolved musical pathway. From the punk roots of The Southern Death Cult, the band first came to wider attention in the early eighties, with the album Dreamtime, a mix of gothic spirituality and rock beats. Their reputation grew with the release of an album of dark and bluesy psychedelic sounds and the band were probably happy in the assumption that they had arrived. What followed came not only as a departure but also as a shock for many of the die-hard fans. Relocating to America with a brief of "making an album worthy of AC/Dc the result was Electric, a more straight forward rock and roll beast which divided the fans, loosing many of the old school but picking up as many, if not more, new listeners along the way. Sonic Temple followed and this is an album that, driven more my guitarist Billy Duffy, carries on down that rock and roll road. With this album you can hear Ian Astbury taking his place as the leader of the band once more and although it is still driven very much by the solid guitar rock sensibilities as the previous two albums it returns to some of the root ideas and themes of the early days and stems the march towards rock nirvana a bit and creates an album which could appeal to cult fans old and new. Although at the time it did not receive the greatest of praise from fans or critics, this may be based on a hankering by them for a return to the good old days, but by now The Cult were a different outfit altogether, there was no going back. However so much time has passed that I think it is a good time to reflect on the album without those sidetracks to a music that was already history and enjoys it for what it is.
The albums title track opens up in a slow build reminiscent of Sonic Temple's opener Sun King and there are indeed main similarities between that album and this. As the song kicks in the stadium rock credentials that the band carry with them are brought to the fore and what can only be described as glorious dirty kick arse rock is delivered. The medium paced stomp, wailing, razor sharp guitars and grinding back beats are everything that rock and roll was invented for and this is a band that know how to reveal in all of the clichés without becoming parodies of themselves. This is the first of many American Indian references, a theme that has always run through Astbury's writing, going back to his younger days growing up in Canada next to a reservation. The rights of these people have always remained close to him and a band is an obvious vehicle for spreading the word regarding things that concern you. Wild Hearted Son, carries on that image, from its opening chants and glorious guitar riff (that rock style that plagiarists The Darkness have often tried to mimic but never get close to) and it's a song that sums up what makes The Cult in this hard rock phase work so well. The answer is the simplicity of the songs themselves. Straightforward three chord tricks, repetitive, mesmerising and pure rock groove and used as the building blocks upon which all the clever solo's and guitar trickery sits. It never tries to be anything more than good rocking' four-four beats, the songs aren't over thought or out to impress and when they are stripped back to their fundamentals are as straight forward as they come, and this is what makes them easy to relate to. A straight forward beat that goes straight to the feet and a dark and sexy groove that makes you want to dance, that's what its all about.
Earth Mofo is more of the same only with a slight change in the drum pattern between chorus and verse to build dynamic between them, the restraint of the verse means that when the chorus comes its as if the band are unleashed and the music surges forward like a damn breaking. Building upon itself, the guitars spiral chaotically out of control to the end of the song and a pure rock crescendo ensues. White seem to provides the first breathing space, voice and 12 string acoustic guitar carry the opening of the song but soon Duffy's trademark riffs and power chords are driving the song along. A balance between the more spaced acoustic verses and the hammering choruses does mark a slight departure from the three tracks we have heard so far, but it is still very much The Cult doing what they do best. Even this more restrained deliver crackles with power and vitality showing that you don't have to resort to the American soft rock style power ballad when you want to knock it down a gear, there is still room to be ballsy and the slower time signature of the play out shows that even in this region of heads down no nonsense mindless boogie, there is room to be thoughtful and original in your work.
The song If opens on a piano, with Astbury's voice and strong message are the focal point before the wall of white noise guitars join the song. Its appropriate at this point to say that lyrically Ian Astbury's writing is some of the best he's done, strong messages of tolerance and harmony which although wrapped in specific concepts are there to be applied to the world over, no small brief there, but they have thankfully never been a band to write about cars and girls. For a band that once hankered after an AC/DC type sound, its no surprise that Full Tilt sounds the way it does. A strutting and cocky, blues rock power drive which with addition of Bon Scott's glorious high pitched screams could have easily graced the Powerage album, no small tribute to their heroes there. Heart of Soul is one of those songs that the band doesn't need to fall into the trap of writing. It sounds like a knocked off Def Leppard power ballad, all lighters in the air and spotty seventeen-year-old rockers with denim jackets covered with sewn on patches punching the sky. Come on guys, we know you are better than that. Unfortunately Bangkok Rain doesn't go far to repair the damage and this unmemorable rock track is one that you know wouldn't have made any previous album final list. It's Cult by numbers, nothing more.
The last three tracks do however get things back on track. The dark emotive strains that open Indian, cello's underpinning acoustic guitars, provide a fantastic backdrop for some of Astbury's finest lyrics, not to mention a wonderful vocal delivery. It's a sweet and emotional ride that's this band do so well. Sweet Salvation could have fallen flat, the music is a bit run of the mill, but it's the singers experience and powerful delivery that pushes it onto a higher ground. The album is rounded off with Wonderland, which is an odd take on what the band normally do and a great way to finish the album
Its not that it's a bad album, on reflection, The Cult will always deliver something of worth. Its just not brilliant, maybe the problem is that much of their earlier work is such a hard act to follow, after all most bands would have been proud to have made this album. If you are new to the band then it will probably satisfy you adequately but its defiantly a case of once you've tasted the cream, milk is such a let down I guess. I would recommend the album Love for a more gothic creation and Sonic Temple for out and out hard rock, but this is certainly an album worthy of the occasional play too.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Wild Hearted Son
3 Earth Mofo
6 Full Tilt
7 Heart Of Soul
8 Bangkok Rain
10 Sweet Salvation